When it dropped, the reaction that I saw across my social media feed consisted of a lot of raised eyebrows, tilted heads, and furrowed brows.
Wow… he really went there.
Shai Linne, the standard-bearer for reformed theology in hip-hop, released a song called “Fal$e Teacher$,” in which he castigates the erroneous, prosperity-based, word-of-faith teachings of many high-profile ministers, and then in the chorus, calls them out by name. Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are just a few of the names that Linne identifies as false teachers.
In this video, he explains his reasoning for the single (part of his recent album Lyrical Theology, Vol. 1), specifically citing widespread deception regarding prosperity doctrine on the continent of Africa. According to Linne, the export of these ideas to unreached communities in Africa is even more dangerous, because many of these African listeners and viewers are mired in even deeper and more extreme levels of poverty. This prosperity thing must work, Linne says they’re probably thinking, since so many Americans have bought in.
I share an extreme distaste for most of these big-name ministries, for most of the same reasons. Because I care greatly about the destruction that such false teaching can unleash in the lives of naïve Christians who lack discernment, I am glad that Shai Linne has renewed his effort to address these heretical doctrines.
(*cue my Stephen A. Smith voice*)
HOWEVAH… I wish he wouldn’t have done it this way. Not the naming-names, thing. In principle, I don’t have a problem with that. I agree with Shai that there is significant Biblical precedent for naming names, most prominently with Paul publicly opposing Peter’s favoritism in Galatians 2.
No, for me, the most problematic part is in the title and the chorus. The single doesn’t just refer to false teaching, but it calls out false teachers. It crosses the line from holding public ministers accountable for the words and actions into publicly name-calling and denouncing their whole ministry. Depending on how you interpret 2 Peter 2:1-3 (which was quoted in the song), it’s possible to conclude that Linne is even questioning their salvation.
I am reminded of the words of hip-hop intellectual Jay Smooth, whose video blog “ill doctrine” blew up in 2008 when he offered people tips on how to tell someone that what they said sounded racist. Even though the issues are different, the concept is similar. When trying to hold someone accountable for something bad, it’s always better to focus on what they did rather than who they are. The former has a much narrow focus, whereas the latter gets into much bigger issues that are easier to derail.
So even if, for example, there is plenty of evidence to convict Paula White of having espoused and transmitted false doctrine, simply labeling her as a false teacher makes it too easy for her allies (in this case, her son who manages the ministry) to defend the totality of her ministry without addressing specific allegations.
In the headline, I used the term “false positive” – this is not an accusation that Shai is being deceptively nice. It’s a medical term, which describes “a test result that wrongly indicates the presence of a disease or other condition the test is designed to reveal.”
False positives are a major problem in medical diagnosis, but not because patients are often diagnosed as sick when they’re perfectly healthy. What happens more often is that patients who truly are sick get misdiagnosed, and then are given treatment that relates to the overall problem, but lacks certain nuances that could more precisely aid their recovery.
Whether intentionally or not, by releasing “Fal$e Teacher$,” Shai Linne gave the impression that all of the ministers named are cancerous toxins in the worldwide church, who should be, if not removed from ministry outright, at least avoided at all costs. These are sweeping accusations that, in my opinion, should not be done without providing or referencing specific evidence and proof – and in the song, he declares them over twelve people (in order: Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Fred “KC” Price, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Tilton, Eddie Long, Juanita Bynum, and Paul Crouch).
Now I’m not a fan of any of these names, but how fair is it to compare the ministries of Joyce Meyer and Robert Tilton? I don’t know, and that’s the point – Shai Linne provides very little contextual differentiation between them to justify his declaration of their heresy, only that they’re all in the same hellbound boat (“if you’re living your best life now, you’re headed for hell”). What then of any potential truth intermingled within the heresy? Or does one errant sermon, video or sentence corrupt the whole thing?
In his YouTube’d explanation (yes, I really just used the word “YouTube” as a verb), Shai mused that it had been ten years since he had really taken on this subject, which caused me to reflect on his original take on the matter, “Issues,” from 2003’s Urban Compositions.
This, to me, is a more well-rounded and more interesting song.
In it, he definitely attacks pastors who propagate the prosperity gospel (check this lyric: “I know this iced-out pastor, the brotha’s large / my man wanted to go to his church, but couldn’t afford the cover charge”). But its chorus also includes the phrase, “only Christ can separate the wheat from the tares,” a reference to Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:36-43.
Shai would be wise to revisit both the song and the parable. In it, Jesus describes a farmer who allow both wheat and the weeds to grow side by side, because trying to pull out the weeds could damage the still-growing wheat. It’s good to hold public ministers accountable to things they do and say that contradict Scripture, but labeling them as “Fal$e Teacher$” has the potential to undercut any of the gospel truth they might have preached alongside the heresy. And the people who get hurt – again –are those who follow those ministers, who haven’t yet developed the ability to eat the meat and spit out the bones, so to speak. After living under these faulty teachings, a believer who is suddenly exposed to the truth in such a harsh manner runs the risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
My advice to Shai Linne: keep doing your best to promote Godly truth, but trust God to pull the weeds in His timing.
Editor’s Note: Bradley Knight, Paula White’s son, released a statement in response to Shai Linne’s song. Linne subsequently released a statement responding to Knight with specific examples of what he considers to be false teaching by Paula White.